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Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw grateful for opportunity to start Game 1 of the World Series

There were moments of doubt and stretches of brilliance, a full circle bringing Clayton Kershaw back to the last mountain he has yet to conquer.

A few months ago, the future Hall of Famer was stuck several miles from Arlington enduring an unexpected summer stay at his offseason home near Dallas, waiting for a season he wasn’t sure he would ever see.

On Tuesday, he will take the mound for Game 1 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Field at 5:08 PDT, determined to add “World Series champion” to a resume that already includes eight All-Star appearances, three Cy Young awards and a most valuable player award.

“It’s been a tough go,” Kershaw said when asked if winning a title in this pandemic-shortened, expanded-playoff season would have the same meaning. “To be able to win a World Series after all this would be just as special as any other one for sure.”

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During the time in between, Kershaw experienced a career resurgence, posting a 6-2 record and 2.16 earned-run average. He produced one of his best playoff starts in the wild-card round, then navigated a tricky San Diego Padres lineup in the division series.

His last time out ended with an ominously familiar scene — the 32-year-old left-hander sitting long-faced and lonesome on the Dodgers bench, another season seemingly doomed after he was charged with four runs in five-plus innings of a Game 4 loss in the National League Championship Series.

But this time, Kershaw will get a second chance. The Dodgers erased the Atlanta Braves’ three-games-to-one series lead. They won Game 7 on Sunday to claim their third pennant in four years. And Tuesday they will hand him his first series-opening start in the postseason since 2018.

“It was a special series,” Kershaw said of the NLCS. “To be able to get to go on to the World Series and get to play a team like the Braves and take them to seven games after being down 3-1, it’s a testament to those guys in the clubhouse, really. It was a fun night, a special night.”

Now comes the hardest part, the final ascent of a long playoff climb that Kershaw and the Dodgers have twice failed to complete. Kershaw enters his third World Series trying to forget about the first two, when the team lost three of the four games he started en route to consecutive defeats in 2017 and 2018.

“The Rays are a different team than the Astros and the Red Sox,” Kershaw said of the clubs who vanquished the Dodgers, lineups that left him with an unthinkable World Series ERA of 5.40.

Kershaw seemed more appreciative than anxious during a videoconference Monday, grateful that the season was able to reach these final weeks.

“To be here now and be four wins from getting to win a World Series, it’s a testament to a lot of people to be able to make this season happen,” Kershaw said. “It’s a testament to the players, even to Major League Baseball, that we were able to get to this point. And I’m super thankful for that.”

The Dodgers are thankful Kershaw is available for Game 1. The team depleted its pitching staff in an NLCS with no off days. Walker Buehler won’t be ready until Friday’s Game 3.

Giving the ball to Kershaw was “the biggest of no-brainers,” manager Dave Roberts said. Kershaw indicated the back spasms that delayed his NLCS start are no longer a concern. And though he claimed he feels no fresher than in previous Octobers, this year’s 60-game schedule put fewer innings on his arm.

“To have him start Game 1, something he’s done before,” Roberts said, “just makes us feel that much better about it.”

Asked if he’d have preferred a World Series rematch with the Astros, who stole signs during the 2017 season and lost to the Rays in Saturday’s American League Championship Series Game 7, Kershaw slyly smiled before shutting down the idea.

“No, you can’t think like that,” he said. “The Rays are a very formidable opponent and winning a World Series is going to be special, no matter who you play. 2017 is over. We can’t go back and worry about that.”

Getting revenge on the Astros isn’t the point anyway; not for Kershaw, at least. His goals are more simple: to finally reach the summit of long-sought championship dreams.

”I’m gonna prepare like I always do and be as ready as I can be,” Kershaw said. “Excited about another opportunity to get it done.”


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